With weather patterns changing in unexpected ways, premium winemakers, where vintage matters, are at risk of sub-par years. Mass-market winemakers have a more consistent product year-to-year and are less influenced by global warming.
The Brunello di Montalcino Consorzio rates each vintage from one to five stars. In the 1950s, there was one five-star vintage; the 1960s and 1970s each saw two such years. But since 2010, they’ve already seen three five-star vintages, with this year’s harvest yet to be evaluated. The last two-star vintage was 2002; the last one-star, 1984. Quality has become more consistent; the danger in the future may be over-ripeness instead.
“In the past growers and winemakers had less capacity to limit the effects of a less favorable vintage,” says Axel Heinz, estate director at Ornellaia in Tuscany. “Vineyard management and winemaking techniques were a little less sophisticated. We have not completely eliminated bad vintages, but we are much better prepared to cope.” For example, in a cool year a grower might adjust the vines’ canopy to shed more light on the grapes, aiding ripening. At other times, maintaining quality simply means making less wine, setting aside grapes that didn’t ripen appropriately. In today’s competitive wine market, today’s producers typically prefer to sell less wine from a given year than risk damaging their reputation with a year’s-worth of wines that aren’t up to snuff.